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Rookie Talent On Display In Tonight's Preds/Oilers Game

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
They’re in Edmonton today, but some of these young guys may be in Las Vegas at the end of the season.

A cast of talented rookies will be on the ice when the Nashville Predators take on the Oilers at 8:30 p.m. CT (Fox Sports TN, 102.5 The Game). Nashville forwards Craig Smith and Blake Geoffrion, and Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum received plenty of offseason attention as candidates for the 2011-12 Calder Memorial Trophy. Then there’s the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was the first overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Much recognition is given to the Edmonton Oilers for their youth movement -- and deservedly so. The average age of the Oilers talented forward line of Eberle - Hall - Nugent-Hopkins is just under 20-years old. And the trio of forwards from Sweden, second year NHLers Linus Omark (24) and Magnus Paajarvi (20) and rookie Anton Lander (20), aren't much older.

However, people often forget just how young a roster Nashville is sporting. The Preds, with an average age of 25.5 years old, are almost two years younger than the Oilers, with an average age of 27.2 years old. Eight of the 15 forwards in Nashville are under 25 years old, with Patric Hornqvist (24), Sergei Kostitsyn (24), Craig Smith (22), and Colin Wilson (21) all seeing scoring line action. On the blueline, Kevin Klein, still two months shy of his 27th birthday, is the oldest defenseman to lace up the skates for the Preds this season.
--Jay Levin,
All four of these talented young players are likely to garner serious consideration for the All-Rookie Team at season's end and expect one or two of these players to be in Las Vegas in June for the NHL Awards when the Calder is presented. Here’s a brief look at each player …

F Craig Smith, Predators: Smith, 22, is tied for second in rookie scoring with four points through the first two weeks of the season. After scoring a goal in each of his first two NHL regular season games, Smith has cooled down a bit. But with his ability to get so many shots on net, his third goal should come sooner rather than later.

D Jonathon Blum, Predators: Blum, 22, was a preseason All-Rookie candidate and has a huge amount of trust from the coaching staff to play in all situations, holding down a slot in the second defenseman pairing (behind Olympians Ryan Suter and Shea Weber), averaging close to three minutes a game on the penalty kill, and manning the point on the team's second power-play unit. He continues to play at a high level, which has carried over from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and is second among all rookies in average ice time this season (22:08).

F Blake Geoffrion, Predators: The 23-year-old Geoffrion does not have a point through four games, but has been asked to play a role in multiple situations. His responsibilities continue to grow and Geoffrion has fond memories playing against the Oilers. His first career NHL goal came against Edmonton on March 1 of last season. The 2010 Hobey Baker winner, as the top college player, Geoffrion scored six goals in 20 games down the backstretch of last season, a pace for close to 25 goals over a full season schedule.

F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers: The first overall pick has transitioned well to the NHL. Like Craig Smith a few nights prior, Nugent-Hopkins scored a goal in his NHL debut Oct. 9 vs. Pittsburgh and then upped the ante in his third game with a hat trick against Vancouver on Saturday. Playing on a line with 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall and 2008 first round pick Jordan Eberle, RNH is tied with Nashville's Craig Smith for second in rookie scoring with four points.

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